What Your Music Tells

Img_1078 A trans-Atlantic study suggests your taste in music says a lot more about you than your looks, your politics or your taste in movies or books.

This is something you already know if you thought Nick Hornby stole your idea for High Fidelity, where record-shop owner Rob Fleming recommends judging potential mates by their album covers. (Historical note: When Blinq saw a Southern school teacher had Little Feat, the Jefferson Airplane and Barry White in her closet, a marriage proposal was not too long to follow.)

Psychological Science is to publish a study called "Message in a Ballad" by Samuel Gosling, an Brit teaching at Texas, and Peter Jason Rentfrow, an American teaching at Cambridge. It rises from a series of tests that judge personality traits based their students' compilations of 10 favorite songs. A panel of student judges rated their peers' personality profiles according to their musical choices. And the authors found these ratings remarkably accurate, compared to their own psychological profiles of the participants.

As Benedict Carey writes in the New York Times:

The top 10 lists were particularly good in revealing the authors’ taste for variety, intellectual appetite for abstract ideas and willingness to experiment with alternative points of view, a quality psychologists call openness. And a high volume of lyrics in a person’s list seemed to roughly reflect sociability, or extroversion, Rentfrow said.

The top 10 lists revealed little, however, about people’s levels of conscientiousness — how neat, responsible and organized they were. "This makes some sense," Rentfrow said. "You can tell more about these kinds of qualities by looking at a picture."

The Times of London wrote that the psychologists also monitored courting couples' first six weeks of conversation, and discovered that they used music to "check each other out" nearly twice as much as they relied on books, television or sports:

While the men tended to use musical references to establish themselves as belonging to a particular "tribe", and the women more often choose it to reflect moods, in both cases it had the effect of communicating their character types.

All of which is a way, really for me to link to something written in 2000, but which I'd missed, and I've spent the morning hunting down songs I didn't know, and thinking twice about ones I did, disagreeing a little, but never wondering what this person would be like on a date.

Elvis Costello was asked by Vanity Fair to come up with a list of his 500 favorite recordings, which he did and then some. I'm not sure what it says about him other than he's got Catholic taste in music, and I'd guess his collection takes up a few wings of his mansion. He goes deep into Sinatra - two songs from In the Wee Small Hours and not even the title track; mines Steely Dan for "Show Biz Kids;" cherry picks "Nobody" from the Replacements; a Pablo Casals interpretation of Bach's Cello Suites, a Charles Dutoit-conducted Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev; Lauro Nyro and Labelle's "The Bells" ...

Too many to summarize. Just read it. Memorize it. Sew it into your liner. And collect these recordings for when you wind up in the cast of Lost and need tunes to last on your desert island. It'll tide you over until we can see what the Moon has to say.

Ed Ward
Posted 02/27/2006 10:33:10 AM

My rule was always to leave immediately if a girl's room had either one (or, heaven forfend, both) of these: a Peter, Paul & Mary album a harlequin mask on the wall Am I giving away my age here?

Posted 02/27/2006 09:10:51 PM

Struck up a conversation with now-boyfriend-of-3+-years after seeing him passionately singing along to Thunder Road.